Ideology and Writing in Papiamentu: A Bird's Eye View (1)

Article excerpt

Hundreds of miles of Caribbean Sea separate the Dutch Windward islands (Bovenwindse eilanden)--Saba, St. Maarten, and St. Eustatius--and the Dutch Leeward islands (Beneden-windse eilanden)--Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. Together they form the remnants of age-old Dutch expansion in the New World, and they are still Dutch territories. In total, these islands have a population of some 260,000 spread across 1,000 square kilometers. Until its independence in 1975, the territory of Suriname on the South American coast was also Dutch. Continual controversy over internal political and economic power between Curacao and Aruba fed the desire of the latter to leave the constellation of Dutch Caribbean islands to form a relatively autonomous part within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This was granted in 1986, leaving the other five islands--or rather four and a half islands: half of St. Maarten is French territory--to form the Netherlands Antilles. (2)

Throughout post-Columbian history the island of Curacao has usually been the center of the Dutch Caribbean Island Territories in virtually every respect, with Aruba--the second largest island--as runnerup. This is especially true where literary writing is concerned. Although the earliest known newspaper was printed in St. Eustatius--from 1790 through 1793 the St. Eustatius Gazette appeared--Curacao boasts the publication of the Curacaosche Courant, which was established in 1816. This weekly is still being published, and its numerous volumes form an invaluable source of socio-cultural, political, and economic information, especially where the nineteenth century is concerned. The nineteenth century columns also contain dozens of occasional poems, primarily in Dutch, by local residents. (3) The literary quality of this verse is indisputably limited, but the publication as such forms the foundation of a tradition which lasts up to this very moment, viz. the newspaper as an indispensable medium for literary expression.


The first original texts from Dutch Antillean soil to be qualified as literature and to have retained some of their literary value after their first publication were in Spanish. Just off the coast of Latin America, with its strong tradition of rapidly changing dictatorial governments and itself a haven of political stability, Curacao became the home of numerous Latin American exiles in the second half of the nineteenth century. Besides, migration and trade between the island and the continent had already been a common practice before Westerners sighted the island. Although Dutch has been the official language ever since the Dutch captured the Leeward islands in the 1630s, literacy in Spanish was widespread among the elite and the civilian population and, more often than not, was far better known than Dutch. The latter would only gain firmer ground in the course of the twentieth century.

In July of 1886, the first issue of Notas y letras. Semanario de literatura y bellas artes [Notes and words. Weekly for literature and fine arts] appeared on Curacao. Over seventy issues of the literary magazine were published, with more than six hundred pages of poetry, prose, essays, reviews, and music scores. The editors incorporated contributions by Latin American authors temporarily residing on the island and by writers from Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. However, the editors themselves, Joseph Sickman Corsen and Ernesto H. Romer, were from Curacao. Corsen was a regular contributor of poetry in Spanish, which was posthumously collected in Poesias [Poems] (1915). Corsen's poetry in Spanish was quite in line with what was generally considered to be appropriate and expressed bourgeois sentiments typical of his days, as did other Curacaoan poets such as A.Z. Lopez-Penha and Adolfo A. Wolfschoon. The latter two also published collections of their poetry in the late nineteenth century, while the Curacao born Dario D. …


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